Australia denies any deal behind US exemptions

By BLOOMBERG

SYDNEY • Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Steven Ciobo denied that Australia struck a security agreement with the US to get exempted from tariffs on steel and aluminium announced by President Donald Trump.

“Ultimately, we have a very healthy trade and investment relationship with the US, especially the type that President Trump likes, and off the back of that it’s understandable that the president resolved that Australia wouldn’t be subject to these tariffs,” Ciobo told the ABC’s Insiders programme yesterday.

Trump said last Friday that he was working on a security agreement with Australia that would exempt the country from planned tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.

On Saturday, Turnbull confirmed that Australia would be excluded from the tariffs, saying that “now the legal paperwork — the proclamation process under the executive order — will take its course to put that direction into effect”.

“What the prime minister made clear yesterday and what the president’s tweet also referred to is now the legal process internally in the US — it is effectively just about the paperwork that’s got to be undertaken,” Ciobo said.

Ciobo said he “completely” disagreed with suggestions that there could be moral pressure on Australia to agree if, for example, Trump asked to conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea.

The US was not asking for anything in return for granting Australia the tariff exclusion, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said yesterday. “There is no further security arrangement, there was no reciprocal arrangement as a result of the tariff exemption,” she told the media in Adelaide.

The government didn’t advocate a reciprocal tariff imposition and a trade war is in nobody’s interest, Bishop said.

Canada, Mexico and Australia have secured exemptions from the tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminium announced by Trump, though Canada’s and Mexico’s are conditional on progress being made in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

European Union Trade Chief Cecilia Malmstrom said there was no “immediate clarity on the exact US procedure for exemption” following a trilateral meeting on Saturday with her American counterpart and Japan’s trade minister. Trump responded on Twitter, saying that if EU countries “drop their horrific barriers & tariffs on US products going in, we will likewise drop ours. Big Deficit. If not, we Tax Cars etc. FAIR!”

“We are in choppy waters” in terms of the global trade environment, Ciobo said. “Over the next 12 to 24 months, getting the settings right on trade is going to be more important than ever.”